Treating Depression in Heart Patients Improves Heart Health

Depression is often associated with chronic health problems, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Patients often become discouraged about the limitations that the disease places on them, along with unpleasant side effects from medication.

A new study says that when depression is controlled in patients with heart failure, they see a significant improvement in several areas. According to cardiologists and psychologists at the University of California-Davis and Duke University, improving depressive symptoms can positively affect social functioning, quality of life and even health status.

Depression is known to complicate the treatment of many types of illnesses, but this study provides some of the first research that documents that clear physical benefits of improving mental health. The study appears in a recent issue of the journal Circulation: Heart Failure.

The study was led by Glen Xiong, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UC Davis. Xiong explained that the measures of endurance caught the attention of the researchers. The team believes that physicians will, as a result of the findings, be more inclined to screen and treat depression because the potential for functional improvement is great.

While heart failure can be devastating for an individual, leading to a progressively weak heart resulting in severe disability and mortality, heart failure is also a major public health issue. Annual cost for the approximately five million Americans affected reaches to over $37 billion.

The researchers used data from the Sertraline Against Depression and heart Disease in Chronic Heart Failure study conducted in 2008. The original study evaluated the use of sertraline, an antidepressant, in 469 men and women, all over the age of 45. The study looked at the depressive and cardiac symptoms of the group, who were all diagnosed with heart failure and depression.

The new study looked at how depression and health status were related, independently of medication or placebo taken. The researchers wanted to evaluate how health changed as depressive symptoms increased or decreased, regardless of the treatment for depression.

Xiong explains that while a five-point change on the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire is considered to be a significant event for a patient, the patients involved in the study that had improvement with depressive symptoms were measured as having scores 13 points higher on the measurement tool.

The researchers were further impressed by the outcomes on the Short Form Health Survey, which indicated that when depression was improved, physical function and the perception of general health were also improved.

The results of the analysis may lead to new opportunities for the investigation into more therapies that treat the connections between the body and the mind. There may be promise for new treatments that offer improved ways to stabilize heart failure patients.

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